About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Fall is here and as we approach October twelfth Columbus Day, our weekends are packed with special activities; so much so that it is hard to fit them all in.  Summer is over but the weather remains comfortable and the leaves are turning.  People are getting out in droves.

My weekend began on Friday with a trip to Boston to attend the symposium called "Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture" at the Museum of Fine Arts.  My friend, Barbara, keeps much closer in touch with goings-on in Boston than I do and it was she who instigated this wonderful day at the museum.

                                                           Chateau Saint-Louis, Quebec

The subject matter ranged from the furnishings of the Chateau Saint-Louis and the Intendant's Palace in Quebec, Canada (New France) to the needlework on upholstery in 18th century Newport, RI.

A prime example was the chair belonging to William Ellery, a signer of the Declaration, whose roots are here in Essex County in Gloucester.

The embroidery on the upholstered easy (wing) chair was worked by Abigail Carey Ellery, William Ellery's second wife.  It was presented to their daughter upon her marriage.

Then came the fascinating story of the Bradford chair from the Plymouth Colony and its place of honor in the hearts of Mayflower Pilgrim descendants.  It was listed in Gov. Bradford's estate inventory in 1657 and was recognized at Old Colony Club ceremonies in 1769.  President Harding sat in the chair to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims in 1921.

                                                   Gov. Bradford's Chair, Plymouth

Another subject was patented folding chairs made in Worcester by the Vaill company in the late 19th century.

Late 19th century fFolding Chair by Vaill

Next, an unusual paper was presented focusing on adult cradles for people with impairments and loss of mobility.  These rather bizarre objects spotlighted "Aunt Patty" and shed light on a somewhat overlooked subject of dealing with physical limitations and old age in  Colonial America.

An Adult Cradle by the Fireside

Egyptian Revival decorations and furnishings at Cedar Hill in  Warwick Rhode Island was interesting even if not our taste in 2013.  

The day ended after 5:00 PM with the story of Israel Sack, Inc.  Long located in New York but with Boston roots, and well remembered by those who knew the sons who carried on the business after the death of Israel Sack in 1959.  Familiar to most collectors of furniture are the two books written by one son, Albert Sack, , "Fine Points of Furniture" familiarly known as the "good, better, best" books.  My own recollection is from seeing their ads in my mother's Antiques magazine in my youth.

The Magazine Antiques, July 1981

As interesting to me as the presenters and their papers were the luminaries of the furniture world with whom we were rubbing elbows,  long since having known them through their books if not in person.  This list included Brock Jobe, ("Portsmouth Furniture") now a professor at Winterthur; Robert Mussey, ("The Furniture Masterworks of John and Thomas Seymour")  an expert on Federal period furniture.  (my favorite); Jane Nylander, ("Our Own Snug Fireside" a much loved book for many); and her husband, Richard Nylander, ("Wallpaper in New England") and other wallpaper books, to name a few.  Pictured below are their representative books, worn and well used from my own library.

I regret that the book I don't own is Mussey's book on Seymour furniture.  When it was new I thought I couldn't afford it.   Now I will never own it.  The Amazon price is $750!  Brock Jobe's book on Portsmouth furniture is in the $300 range.  I'm happy to say I do own that treasure.

During breaks we wandered through the American Wing, impressed by the over-the-top collections of furniture and Copley paintings galore.  It was hard to tear ourselves away but after a long day, dinner, home and pets to be cared for beckoned.

On Saturday the 1710 White-Ellery house in Gloucester was open to the public.  It is looking so good with the restored exterior and at long last, new leaded casement windows.  Saturday a fall craft fair was held at the house with weaving, rug making , music and absolutely incredible quilts.  The quilts were pieced at the Senior Center under the leadership of artist, Juni Van Dyke.  Each quilt depicted the different villages that comprise the City of Gloucester. All were spectacular and evoked fond memories of the places depicted in the quilts.  They are nothing short of fabulous.

The front yard of the old house had been transformed into a farmyard with animals created by Shep Abbott.  It was a festive event.

Sunday morning, in spite of predicted rain, I chanced it by arriving at Todd's Farm Flea Market before 6:00AM in the pitch dark with flashlight in hand.  The rain held off for about an hour and a half after which vendors and buyers hastily packed up and fled.  I did have time to buy an impressive Westerwald jug with a chip for $10.  Some of these jugs date to the 16th century,.  I knew this was old but after picking the brains of an expert friend, Jim, I found mine was not really old, only dating to 1880 or 1890.  I guess that makes it a repro.  It's like old houses; when is it REALLY antique.  Nevertheless, it is a looker and might end up on eBay.

The weekend ended on Sunday with an invitation from a friend, Robin, to attend a special program at Landry and Arcari, rug dealers, in Salem.  The speaker was a designer from LA but his subject was clutter, what to do about it and how to get rid of it,  I didn't tell him my new secret system for ridding my house of clutter.

A few weeks ago I knew it was time to address this issue.  I have a friend, Anna Mae, who lives in a town with a swap shop at the dump, or transfer station as they are now called.  Her suggestion was that I bring my stuff to her and she would take it to the swap shop at the dump.  She also asked if I minded if she and her daughter and granddaughter took things from the pile if something appealed to them.

I loaded up my wagon with more things than I can now remember and hauled them into her house.  The result...nothing went to the dump.  Not only did they want everything but wanted to know when I would be bringing another load.  I loaded up my wagon one more time and deposited my clutter at her house.  The same result...nothing went to the dump.

Yet a third time I loaded up and piled my clutter into her barn.  And again, the same result.  Only one item was passed; a large modern chandelier.

I didn't tell the clutter expert how I was dealing with my clutter.  This method was not on his list.

My problem is solved.  MY clutter is now THEIR clutter.

All in all, it was a great weekend with a lot of culture and a lot of fun, perfectly balanced.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Edyth O'Neill, a new friend from Texas, visiting Cape Ann for three weeks.  It was she who inspired me to start this old house blog.  It was she who renewed my interest in antique dolls.  It was she who, along with my friend Peggy, took my valuable antique doll, Amy, with all her incredible clothes; steamed out damaging old creases and wrapped them along with Amy, in archival tissue paper, placed doll and clothes in containers and delivered her back to me safe and sound for the long haul.. This lady had a profound influence on all of us who enjoyed her visit.  We will miss her.

You might like to see the journal of her visit to Cape Ann on her beautiful blog called "My Red Cape".  It can be found at Edythoneill.blogspot.com.

Thank you for visiting.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this detailed and interesting view of your weekend! It was almost as good as being a mouse in your pocket. Thank you also for your warm words about our new friendship. The pleasure is mutual.